Benefield, John Barry (1877–1971)

By: David Littlefield

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Barry Benefield, journalist, author, and novelist, was born on May 12, 1877, in Jefferson, Texas, to Benjamin Harrison and Harriet Adelaide (Barry) Benefield. He grew up studying the travelers that stopped to spend the night at his father's combination wagonyard and feed store in Jefferson. As he swept the floor in the store, he began gathering information for his many short stories and novels, often about his native East Texas. As a boy, his mother, herself a writer, encouraged him to write about people. In 1898 he entered the University of Texas. Benefield financed his years at the university by teaching at Smithland, thirty miles from Jefferson. During this four-year period he won the Cactus short story prize in 1900–01 and was editor-in-chief of the University of Texas Magazine in 1901–02, an English student assistant the same year, and secretary of the Cactus in 1902. He graduated as class historian in 1902 and was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. After graduation he worked for the Dallas Morning News for a year and then moved to New York, where he worked for the New York Times. In June 1913 he married Lucille Stallcup of Smithville, Texas. In 1914 he retired to the New Jersey hills for a rest and recuperation of his health. During this time he began writing some of the short stories later published in Short Turns (1926). He became an advertising writer during World War I and later a book editor for the Century Company.

He published his first novel, The Chicken-Wagon Family, in 1925. The Fox film company bought the movie rights before the manuscript was offered for publication. The Woman's Home Companion offered him $10,000 for the serial rights to the next novel, Bugles in the Night (1927). During the Great Depression he lost almost all of his money, but he was able to make enough on short stories he submitted to magazines to survive. Reynal and Hitchcock, a publishing company, offered him a job if he would write a new novel for them. He wrote Valiant is the Word for Carrie, which they published in 1935. He received $17,500 from Paramount for the movie rights. In 1947 he retired to Peekskill, New York. When his wife died in 1960 he sold the house and everything in it and moved back to Jefferson to live with his sister in the house where he grew up. He died on September 22, 1971. His short stories have often appeared in such magazines as the Century, Collier's Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. His novels include Little Clown Lost (1928), Eddie and the Archangel Mike (1943), and April Was When It Began (1939).

Alcalde (magazine of the Ex-Students' Association of the University of Texas) , January 1926. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

David Littlefield, “Benefield, John Barry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 29, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994